First Published on Chaleuria
084 – Video chat, ge.
The end-of-term exams, on the whole, were more difficult than those of previous years. The last few questions on the math paper, especially, were difficult to score points on, and there was basically no knowledge to pool together in the bad students’ gathering grounds.
At first, the crib notes had flown through the classroom, but very quickly the drums quieted and the flags were taken down.
While the invigilating teacher’s back was turned to look at the bookshelf in the corner, someone took the opportunity to start a whispered conversation. “No more notes?”
“What notes? None of us know how to do it.”
“It’s too hard. I’ll remember the name of the person who created this paper! Wu Zheng!”
Complaints rang out from all directions. Xie Yu, pen in hand, had glanced over all the questions, then folded up the scratch paper on which he had written down all the right answers. Halfway through folding, he heard the idiot behind him agreeing with everyone else. “It’s really difficult.”
He Zhao hadn’t done many questions and had put down his pen long ago. He sat in the corner, languorous. He wasn’t wearing the school uniform. He propped up his chin on one hand then said to the student next to him, “I don’t even understand the question.”
“……” He’s addicted to acting, isn’t he?
Xie Yu soundlessly leaned back, stuck his hand beneath He Zhao’s desk, then crooked his finger and tapped on the bottom of the desk. “Quit acting so hard.”
Halfway through the exam, He Zhao had passed him a note on which were written two arrogant words: Too easy.
As they kept passing notes, the topic came around to what they were going to do over vacation.
Little friend, will you go home straight after this?
If not? Squeeze in your bed for another night?
That’s not out of the question.
It was a cloudy day and the dark clouds overhead seemed to weigh down the air. This was the last exam, and everyone was both tired and anxious.
Dean Jiang’s broadcast was staticky. Usually, hearing his voice made everyone’s head hurt but now it soothed their anxiety. “Ten minutes to the end of the exam. Students, please take note of the remaining time.”
The invigilating teacher walked over, humming under his breath and glancing outside the window as he went.
This time it wasn’t Old Tang invigilating. This teacher was rather lax and closed one eye to them passing answers during the exam. He probably thought that letting them copy answers and talk was fine; there wasn’t much to copy among this lot, anyway.
Ten minutes passed quickly and the end-of-exam bell rang.
Xie Yu held his pen and looked at his exam paper in a daze. He had completed it so as to score under the passing grade.
Over the past few days, Madam Gu had called him every night. She was both worried about putting pressure on him but also couldn’t help asking him how revision was going.
“Mom doesn’t need you to get good grades. Just do your best. Or you’ll be the one who regrets it in the future.”
The footsteps of the invigilating teacher rang in Xie Yu’s ears, but he also seemed to hear Madam Gu sighing, then steadying herself and saying, “What do you want to eat after you’re done with exams? Remember to take everything you need with you…”
He Zhao tapped him on the back and passed his exam paper forward. Only then did Xie Yu put down his pen.
Xie Yu, still holding his own paper in his hand, felt an inexplicable frustration.
After a beat, he quietly let out a breath and passed the papers forward.
Now that exams were done, the class was in an uproar. Someone said while packing up their things, “Zhao-ge, how do you feel?”
He Zhao didn’t have much to pack up. He stuck one hand in his pocket and half-sat on the desk, waiting for his boyfriend. He smiled and said, “I feel pretty good. The test just now went pretty well. Should be able to get twenty points.”
Hearing ‘twenty points’, the other guy was momentarily stunned speechless.
“……” Xie Yu tossed his scratch paper into the wastepaper basket, then lightly kicked the leg of the desk He Zhao was sitting on. “Let’s go, twenty-points.”
Gu Xuelan insisted on coming to school to pick him up. Xie Yu took her call in the corner of the stairwell—he had refused the call several times but it was no use. He had lifted a hand and pressed at his temple, inadvertently speaking harshly, “You really don’t need to. I can go back on my own. The bus station’s just a little bit away and I don’t have many things with me.”
People came and went in the corridor.
Madam Gu’s voice was barely audible but Xie Yu still clearly heard the few seconds of silence on the other end of the line.
Then Madam Gu said carefully, “I’ll park at the side of the school?”
Xie Yu’s hands tightened into fists. The words were on the tip of his tongue but his thoughts went in a circle and ultimately turned into, “Got it.”
He didn’t hear Madam Gu talk like this very often.
Madam Gu got angry at the drop of a hat, especially when it came to matters concerning Black Water Street and grades. Only when they both restrained themselves could they both sit down and keep talking.
Erzhong’s school gates were jam-packed with cars, from this end of the street to nearly two streets away.
Xie Yu dragged his luggage around for a while before finding Madam Gu’s car.
Xie Yu paused. It wasn’t the Bentley she usually drove. This car was black, a very common make. In the long line of traffic it was indistinguishable from the other cars.
“You got a new car?”
Gu Xuelan took off her sunglasses and said, “This is Uncle Wang’s car. Did you bring everything with you? Don’t leave anything behind…”
Xie Yu walked to the back of the car and put his things in the trunk.
The car remained in the traffic snarl at Erzhong’s gates for a long time before slowly turning out.
The entire car ride was silent.
When they neared home, Gu Xuelan asked, “When are grades coming out? How do you think you did?”
Xie Yu glanced down at his phone. On his text message app was a dull joke He Zhao had sent him. Before Xie Yu could reply mocking the joke, He Zhao had followed it up with a long string of ‘Ha’s.
“Just okay.” Xie Yu wasn’t sure how to explain it. “Still too early for grade sheets to be out.”
Gu Xuelan was resting one hand on her bag, and now she tightened her hand before letting go somewhat helplessly.
Erzhong released grades quite late. The first few days of vacation, everyone went mad playing and chatted in the class group till the early hours of the morning. When they were done having fun, they finally calmed down and started wondering how on earth they had done on the tests.
[Wan Da]: Hao-zi, you left the game? I said I’d wait for you through wind and rain in this game, and you just abandoned me like that?
(note – Wan Da says it a bit more poetically it’s me who can’t english)
[Liu Cunhao]: You go on. My right eye has been twitching for the last couple days and I think that when grades are out I probably won’t come online.
[Wan Da]: What do those two things have to do with each other?!
[Liu Cunhao]: From today on I have to put on a bit of a show in front of my parents and pretend that I love to study… and then maybe they’ll be merciful when the time comes and spare my life.
[Wan Da]: ……
[Luo Wenqiang]: Talented, Hao-zi.
[Liu Cunhao]: Thank you, thank you. Zhao-ge taught me.
Xie Yu had just showered and his hair was still wet as he listened to He Zhao talk about what was going on in the class chat.
He Zhao still had a lollipop in his mouth and he smiled as he talked. He said, a little languidly, “Hao-zi came over and asked me how I survived my parents all these years. I bullshitted a bit and he actually believed it… He hasn’t logged into that MMO in a few days, even when I ask him to.”
Xie Yu put his phone on speaker mode and tossed it to the side of his bed so he could put on his clothes.
The heat was on so Xie Yu didn’t feel cold even though his feet were bare. He had pulled the shirt half on, one hand on the hem, but before he could pull it down all the way, He Zhao heard the rustling on the other end of the line. He asked, “Little friend, what are you doing?”
Xie Yu said, “Changing clothes.”
Xie Yu finished putting his clothes on, then noticed He Zhao’s end of the call had gone silent. He bent closer to look at his screen. The call had not cut off, and the timer at the bottom was still ticking. So he tentatively said, “Ge?”
They had not seen each other in nearly a week. Just hearing his voice alone, He Zhao already couldn’t stand it and nearly hung up. He said helplessly, “You’re doing that on purpose?”
Xie Yu could tell by his voice. The corner of his lips quirked: his smile was unexpectedly bright. “Do you want to see? Video chat, ge.”
He Zhao cursed.
After a while, He Zhao steeled himself and swiped, sending a video call invitation.
He Zhao half-lay on his bed in his room, wearing only a thin sweater, the collar open and loose, watching him with faux calm. “Yeah, I’m looking. Take off the top first or the bottom?”
He Zhao couldn’t keep up his facade of calm for very long, seeing Xie Yu catch hold of the hem of his shirt and pull it upward, bit by bit, along the line of his waist. Xie Yu’s frame was slender and masculine, and his wrist still had the red string wrapped around it. Although the lighting on Xie Yu’s side was bad, the image on the screen still fell straight into He Zhao’s eyes.
Xie Yu teased a little bit and then couldn’t go any further, thinking: this is a little too much.
He was about to let go when He Zhao cut off the video feed.
The phone screen was now showing the chat again.
I’m going to shower.
Xie Yu tossed his phone aside and lay down on his bed, ignoring his wet hair.
While he was eating dinner with Zhong Jie downstairs just now, Zhong Jie had—intentionally or not—led the conversation round to the end-of-term exams. The word ‘grades’ had been mentioned so often that Madam Gu really couldn’t listen any further and said, to end the conversation, “Grades aren’t even out yet… let’s eat.”
Zhong Jie, the idiot. Even though he had done an extra semester of school, his intelligence hadn’t changed and he said in a chilly voice, “If you ask me… we don’t need to wait for grades to be released. It’s the same anyway.”
Xie Yu thought as he ate, Don’t quibble with idiots.
But a different thought also surfaced: But do beat idiots up until they can’t say another word.
As Xie Yu continued down this line of thought, he picked up his phone and looked at his text messages with He Zhao for a while. Then he opened the class chat.
The class group chat had discussed grades for a long time. Unexpectedly, Old Tang, worrying for their psychological health during the break, had actually sent over a soft copy of the grade sheet he had made a few days earlier.
[Old Tang]: [/Image]
Groans erupted in the class chat. They had only mentioned it offhand but Old Tang had really given them the grade sheet to look at. None of them wanted to look.
[Xu Jing]: Teach, can you take it back?
[Luo Wenqiang]: About that, we… don’t really want to know our grades so badly…
[Liu Cunhao]: ToT, I thought I might get to live another two days.
The most attention-grabbing name on the grade sheet was not Xu Qingqing who scored highest in the year in English, or Xue Xisheng who topped the class. It was a certain grandpa who said he’d easily score 20 points.
He Zhao had said 20 points, but across all subjects he had gotten an average score of more than 50. Everyone in the class chat was more excited than if they themselves had gotten good grades.
[Liu Cunhao]: Zhao-ge, this is really a huge improvement!
[Xu Qingqing]: This is so touching I actually want to cry.
[Wan Da]: Quick, get in the game and I’ll throw you some grenades to celebrate!
[Luo Wenqiang]: Zhao-ge actually got a 49 on this math test! So high!
The group stayed excited for a long time and mentioned He Zhao several times, but He Zhao remained silent throughout.
[Liu Cunhao]: @HeZhao, Zhao-ge? Where is he?
Then the whole class watched with wide eyes as a certain 10,000-year lurker, who made the whole chat go silent when he appeared, sent a four-word text.
[Xie Yu]: He’s in the shower.